Features: June 27th, 2008

By Graham Willett.

Children using technology are exposed to risks in schools, children’s homes, libraries, and youth clubs. It’s the job of councils across the UK to have a Local Safeguarding Children Board to manage these risks and develop e-safety strategies. The major risks come from using the internet and they include cyberbullying and viewing unsuitable online material. The author describes how educating young people on e-safety results in them being better placed to protect themselves from potential dangers. He also outlines how e-safety technology provides screenshots of every violation of the Acceptable Use Policy, both on and off line.

It is crucial in today’s ever evolving world that organisations and individuals work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of young people. An example of where this is currently taking shape is within local authorities. Every local authority across the UK is required to have a Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB).

Part of the remit of the Boards is to raise awareness regarding the safe use of the internet. It is their responsibility to formulate effective local 7l policies, as well as to review and keep those policies up-to-date in a rapidly changing technological context. It is vital that Boards consider e-safety from a wider perspective. This should include how young people access ICT and the types of access; the mode of connectivity and the kinds of data and communication used.

The areas that fall within a Boards role not only include schools, which are the most obvious example, but also access from other areas such as children’s homes, libraries, and youth clubs for instance. A coordinated approach to developing e-safety strategies within these areas is essential.

Education focus

To highlight the areas of consideration in terms of e-safety, the educational field provides a useful illustration. In response to the increase in technologies, e-safety is a relatively new area for local authorities and schools. Technologies in education have developed at such a rapid pace that learners now use a number of state-of-the-art resources as part of their daily routine. From using interactive whiteboards and digital learning devices to undertaking research on the internet, technological advances within schools are certain to continue. This progress has opened the doors to a wealth of opportunities for young people, which inevitably has also uncovered new risks that were unheard of just 20 years ago.

Even within the perceived protection of the school gates, students are unfortunately exposed to dangers through technology either online using the internet, or offline in applications such as Word (used for example, in cyberbullying). It is the role of the Board, in close conjunction with other organisations, such as schools, to educate young people on the area of e-safety. The better equipped learners are, and the more knowledge they have when using technology, the better placed they are to protect themselves from potential dangers.

Taking the internet as an example, when using this medium young people may be able to access inappropriate content, of which there are copious amounts. This is often undertaken by circumventing existing school safeguards via a proxy server to access blocked websites. In fact the most common breach in schools is the viewing of unsuitable online material. This may be anything from content that is simply unsuitable for a particular age group to extreme material which is pornographic, hateful or violent in nature, or that encourages dangerous or illegal activities.

For students, technology in schools is about more than just learning, it provides a forum in which they can socialise and be entertained. Many students frequently meet with friends in the virtual world, chat, and share information and images on social networking sites. This presents an additional danger since young people do not always know who they are actually talking to when establishing online ‘friendships’. So how can local authorities and schools protect students while also allowing them to reap the benefits that modern technologies offer?

Safe and sound

The implementation of monitoring software in schools forms part of the government recommendations for an effective e-safety strategy. To enhance the prospect of a successful e-safety strategy, all the stakeholders in a child’s education must be involved in its development and implementation, from the head teacher and governors to teachers, support staff, parents, and even the students themselves. Consequently, establishing full awareness and buy-in of e-safety is absolutely paramount.

Essentially, local authorities and schools cannot afford to operate without some form of e-safety protection. The implementation of such a solution helps ease concerns as it monitors computers, records evidence of misuse and alerts staff to issues of concern. The more sophisticated e-safety solutions, such as Securus, provide screenshots of every violation of the Acceptable Use Policy, both on and offline. Even if inappropriate content is not saved or is deleted, a screenshot is recorded, along with details of the user, workstation, time and date. This is achieved through the system recognising the language that students use such as slang or text speech as well as image analysis.

Depending on how the solution is set up, this information is sent to the school or the local authority. Although certain material flagged up can be quite innocent in certain contexts, it certainly highlights potentially harmful activity and enables issues to be addressed in the early stages.

Peace of mind

A robust e-safety solution provides peace of mind not only for local authorities and schools, but also for parents, teachers and students as alerts are activated to flag up instances of bullying or threatening behaviour, access to inappropriate internet sites or when computers are being used for personal use during lessons.

For local authorities and other organisations with a responsibility towards young people, it shows that they are following the correct course of action to safeguard children and helps to embed best practice within schools.

It is of course important that students have the freedom to use ICT properly whilst also learning to stay safe. When students are taught about the issues of e-safety, local authorities and schools often experience a reduction in the breaches of e-safety. As students are aware that they are being monitored, there is a strong incentive to use ICT in a safe way, stay on-task during lessons, act responsibly and adopt good habits.

For students it provides protection and presents an early warning of harmful situations such as signs of depression or suicide, predator grooming, racial or religious harassment, drugs and pornography, or gambling.

For parents e-safety solutions provide reassurance by reducing concerns about security and making them feel more comfortable with their children using technology.

Essentially it allows teachers to do what they do best – teach safely in the knowledge that their students are safe. It also empowers teachers to discuss student behaviour with parents, and protects staff against false accusations or becoming targets of bullying themselves.

Best practice example

At the London Borough of Kingston Upon Thames, we are on track to successfully tackle the issues surrounding e-safety. This mini case study explains our experiences.

Graham Willett is inspector for ICT at the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames.
For further information visit www.securus-software.com

Regulate your child’s online activities with internet safety tools provided by Safetyweb.com.